Space Sector Skills Survey 2023 results

Summary

  • The Space Sector Skills Survey (S4) 2023 was commissioned by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) to be the primary source of evidence to support the UK Government’s understanding of skills gaps and workforce challenges in the space sector.
  • Methodology & sample profile

  • The survey was conducted via an online form open for 6 weeks from 24th April to 2nd June 2023. It comprised 51 questions covering recruitment, retention, skills needs and gaps, training provision, and engagement with education. 21 in-depth structured interviews were also conducted to gather qualitative data.
  • Responses were received from 218 organisations, including companies, government bodies, universities, and third sector organisations. This is more than twice as many responses as the 2020 survey, which received 97 responses. The responses represent about 12% of space companies employing about 12,000 people or 35% of the space workforce.
  • Individual respondents were primarily senior representatives of their organisations. 82% responded on behalf of their whole organisation, while the remaining 18% were on behalf of a specific site or team within the organisation.
  • Responses were overwhelmingly from industry (86%). Academic bodies (9%), government (3%), and third sector (2%) organisations also responded. Two thirds (66%) of respondents were from micro or small organisations.
  • The regional distribution of respondents aligns closely with the distribution of space companies recorded in the Size & Health of the UK Space Industry report 2022. The South West and Scotland are slightly overrepresented, while the West Midlands and North West are slightly underrepresented.
  • See Appendix A and Appendix B for more information about the methodology and sample.
  • Results

    Skills gaps and impacts

  • 52% of organisations reported skills gaps in their current workforce, unchanged from 51% in 2020, but significantly lower than the wider economy (73%) 1. This problem is acute for large organisations, where 65% report a skills gap in their current workforce.
  • Of those reporting a skills gap in their current workforce, 72% have a gap in software & data skills, significantly higher than any other technical area. This is partly driven by a need for skills in AI & machine learning (41%) and data analysis & modelling (36%).
  • These gaps are a result of struggling to hire new staff (48%), new staff not having the right skills (45%), and existing staff leaving (34%). This has barely changed since 2020.
  • 97% of organisations with skills gaps said the gaps had some impact on business performance and growth, with 71% describing impacts as major or moderate.
  • The greatest impacts of skills gaps are an increased workload for the existing workforce (72%), and delays in product development (65%), largely unchanged from 2020.
  • Half (50%) of organisations expect that their space skills needs will be different in three years’ time. 81% of these organisations expect that they will need software & data skills, and 70% highlight AI & machine learning in particular.
  • Scale of recruitment

  • 62% of organisations had recruited in the past 12 months, down from 70% in 2020; 48% recruited primarily to expand, while 15% were primarily replacing leavers. 38% did not recruit in the past 12 months; 29% did not need to hire, and 9% had a hiring freeze in place.
  • The organisations completing the survey had a combined space workforce of about 12,000, and recruited for a total of around 1,500 roles over 12 months. This gives a total hiring rate of approximately 12%.
  • Large organisations hire more people but find it harder to recruit. The median time to hire for larger organisations was 12 weeks, compared to 4 weeks for micro organisations.
  • Recruitment by skills and experience

  • 61% reported skills gaps in job applicants. This issue is most acute for large organisations, where 84% report a skills gap in job applicants.
  • Respondents provided a list of roles they recruited for recently, and scored how difficult it was to fill them. Information was provided for 834 vacancies across 366 roles.
  • Roles within software & data and systems engineering have the most vacancies, together making up half (49%) of all vacancies.
  • The most difficult roles to recruit for are electronics, systems engineering, and spacecraft operations. Of these, systems engineering is the most challenging area, where demand is high and it is also very difficult to recruit.
  • More senior roles are harder to recruit for and take longer to fill.
  • Recruiting difficulties

  • Of those who had recruited, 80% had faced recruitment difficulties. This is significantly higher than the 2020 survey’s result of 61%.
  • About two thirds (72%) of roles were difficult or very difficult to recruit for, and only 10% were easy or very easy. The average role took a median of 10 weeks to hire for.
  • The two most commonly cited reasons for recruitment difficulties were that applicants lacked the required specialist skills, knowledge, or qualifications (76%), or that there simply were not enough applicants in the first place (67%).
  • The main cause cited for difficulty recruiting is competition: with other sectors (68%) and with other space companies (45%). While the competition from other space companies has remained largely constant since the 2020 survey, competition with other sectors has increased significantly, particularly engineering (39%) and tech/IT (20%).
  • Uncompetitive pay is the second biggest issue in recruitment, cited by 39% of respondents.
  • Recruiting from abroad

  • Over a third (36%) of companies tried to hire from outside of the UK, more commonly large (58%) and medium organisations (56%) than small (38%) or micro (16%) ones.
  • Among organisations who tried to recruit from abroad, 83% faced difficulties including high costs and the complexity of the visa process, and 21% were not successful.
  • Training provision

  • Almost three quarters (72%) of organisations provide training. Most large organisations have provided training (87%) compared to half of micro organisations (50%).
  • On-the-job training is very common, both formal (92%) and informal (84%). External training is used much less often (54%). 30% of organisations offer sponsorship for further study such as an apprenticeship or degree, and 14% offer secondments.
  • Organisations primarily get training from their own staff (88%) and from private training companies (53%). Professional bodies (39%) and universities (38%), and sometimes further education colleges (11%) are also used.
  • Of respondents who provided training, 88% said that they faced a barrier, including lack of time (65%) and lack of budget (36%). Lack of availability of training was only cited by 25% of respondents.
  • Engagement with education

  • 86% of respondents have engaged with education providers, with larger organisations being the most likely to engage.
  • The most common form of engagement is via outreach, by giving talks (65%) or attending or hosting events like careers fairs (49%).
  • Just under a third (30%) of organisations offer apprenticeships. Two thirds (63%) of large organisations offer apprenticeships compared to just 8% of micro organisations.
  • Retention

  • 45% of organisations reported having difficulties retaining their space staff in the past 12 months. Retention is a bigger problem for larger organisations than for micro ones.
  • The two most commonly cited causes of poor retention are poaching of staff by other space companies (57%), and low salaries (48%). The main impact of poor retention is to increase the workload for remaining staff (72%).
  • Of those that faced retention challenges, 16% said that their staff wanted to leave the space sector for another sector.
  • Overall

  • Nearly every (95%) organisation experienced skills-related challenges, a large increase from 67% in 2020. In particular, retention challenges are now significantly greater.

Introduction

Background

As set out in the National Space Strategy in Action 2, the space sector can only grow if it has a strong pipeline of skilled people, but the supply of experienced professionals has not kept up with demand. To address these challenges, it is important to understand the skills gaps and recruitment and retention issues that employers in the sector face.

The Space Sector Skills Survey (S4) 2023 was commissioned by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) to be the main source of evidence to support the UK Government’s understanding of skills gaps and workforce challenges in the space sector. It was conducted by Space Skills Alliance, supported by know.space.

The results will feed into the Space Workforce Action Plan which will be co-developed by government, industry, and academia, and will be published in 2024 with the aim of identifying where intervention is most needed and by whom.

This is the second edition of the survey, which was first conducted in 2020. Where possible, the results of the two editions have been compared, and these are referred to as S4 2020 and S4 2023, and data from 2020 is generally coloured in grey.

About the UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is an executive agency of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology responsible for the UK’s civil space programme.

About Space Skills Alliance

Space Skills Alliance is a think tank and consultancy providing data, tools, and advice on space skills, training, and recruitment for employers and policy makers.

About know.space

know.space is a specialist space economics and strategy consultancy, with a mission to be the authoritative source of economic knowledge for the space sector.


Skills gaps

Respondents were surveyed on a wide range of space sector skills. These are detailed below and grouped into nine themes (detailed in Appendix A) adapted from the SpaceCRAFT competencies framework 3.

  1. Aero/mechanical design
  2. Systems engineering
  3. Electronics design
  4. Spacecraft operations
  5. Maintenance, manufacturing & materials
  6. Software & data
  7. Sector support (e.g. regulation, training, economic analysis)
  8. Commercial operations (e.g. business development, finance, project management)
  9. Transferable skills (e.g. team work, time management, communication)

Skills gaps in the current space workforce

Half (52%) of organisations reported skills gaps in their current space workforce, almost unchanged from 51% in 2020. This problem is particularly acute for large organisations, where 65% report a skills gap in their current workforce, as shown in Figure 1.

The number of reported skills gaps is considerably lower across the space sector than for the UK economy as a whole. The Business Barometer found that across all sectors 73% of organisations report facing skills shortages, rising to 86% of large organisations 4

Proportion of respondents reporting a skills gap in their current workforce. Data comes from Q26.

Of those reporting a skills gap in their current workforce, 72% have a gap in software & data skills, significantly higher than any other technical area, as shown in Figure 2.

This is partly driven by a need for skills in AI & machine learning (41%) and data analysis & modelling (36%). Many respondents highlighted how important AI and machine learning are becoming in their day-to-day operations.

Many of our clients won't award a project unless it contains machine learning and artificial intelligence, so we'll always really need that skill.

Jonathan Hendry, Chief Technology Officer, 4EI

AI is not a fad. It's so profound, and it’s the definitive, ultimate technology in many respects.”

Graham Harrison, Special Projects Director, NCC
Skills gaps in current workforces grouped by theme, among organisations with a skills gap in their current workforce (n = 103). Data comes from Q27.

There are several notable changes from 2020. Gaps in AI & machine learning (+8 percentage points) and data analysis (+14) have increased, while gaps in software engineering (-14) and radio frequency & telecoms engineering (-13) have decreased, as shown in Table 1. These changes may indicate changes in priorities within organisations, or may reflect the impact of recruitment or upskilling over the past 3 years.

The big skills gap for us is data scientists and machine learning engineers who understand geospatial. It's not just about understanding the data, it's also the interpretation. We'll never get one person that can do all the hard stuff, but the key thing is that we always put these people with different skills in teams.

Jonathan Hendry, Chief Technology Officer, 4EI

RF engineering and software are the most challenging gaps in the projects we are involved in. Many people have basic software skills through short courses, but no experience or knowledge of how to manage or deliver a software project.

Director, systems engineering consultancy
Skill 2020
n = 49
2023
n = 103
Change (pp)
Artificial intelligence and machine learning 33% 41% +8
Systems engineering 39% 39% 0
Data analysis & modelling (2023) / data analytics (2020) 22% 36% +14
Strategy & leadership (2023) / Leadership or motivational skills (2020) 18% 32% +14
Data processing & manipulation - 30% -
Software engineering 45% 29% -14
Radio frequency & telecoms engineering (2023) / radio frequency engineering (2020) 41% 28% -13
Technical leadership - 25% -
Project management 29% 24% -5
Analogue and digital systems - 23% -
Education and training - 22% -
Sales & commercial - 22% -
Regulation - 19% -
Data visualization - 17% -
Assembly, integration, and testing - 17% -
Top 15 skills gaps in the current workforce, full list in Table 27 in Appendix C. Data comes from Q27. Data from 2020 comes from Figures 14 and 15 of that report, scaled to an n of 49.

Causes of skills gaps

Among the 52% of respondents with skills gaps, the main causes cited for them were new staff not having the right skills (45%), struggling to hire new staff (48%), and existing staff leaving (34%).

This suggests that even when organisations have been able to hire, the successful candidates still do not have all the skills required. These issues have barely changed since 2020, as shown in Table 2.

Generally, we have to train more senior hires just as much as we do fresh graduates due to the common skills gaps.

CEO, remote sensing company
Causes of skills gaps 2020
n = 49
2023
n = 106
Change (pp)
Unable to recruit staff with the necessary skills (2020) 76% 75%* -1
Unable to hire new staff (2023) - 48% -
New staff did not have the right skills when they were hired (2023) - 45% -
Staff with the necessary skills have left 39% 34% -5
Existing staff have not received appropriate training 31% 28% -3
Other 18% 15% -3
Causes of skills gaps reported by respondents who faced recruitment difficulties. Data comes from Q28. Results for 2020 come from figure 16 of that report. * Denotes that the respondent ticked either ‘Unable to hire new staff’ or ‘new staff did not have the right skills when they were hired’.

Impact of skills gaps

Almost all (97%) of organisations with skills gaps said the gaps had some impact on business performance and growth, with 71% describing impacts as major or moderate.

The proportion of organisations describing skills gaps as having a major impact has increased significantly from 9% in 2020 to 29% in 2023, shown in Figure 3.

Severity of impact on business performance and growth of skills gaps on respondents with gaps. Data comes from Q29. Data from 2020 comes from Figure 20 of that report and are for any skills issue rather than skills gap specifically.

Figure 4 shows that the greatest impacts of skills gaps are an increased workload for the existing workforce (72%), and delays in product development (65%). These results are largely unchanged from the 2020 survey, but there has been a significant increase in the number of organisations reporting that skills gaps have reduced their productivity (+20 percentage points), made it difficult to keep deliver quality products and services (+18), stay competitive (+15), and introduce new technologies (+11).

These results also align with the economy as a whole. Across all sectors in the UK economy, 72% of organisations said that skills shortages increased workload for their existing staff 5.

Timescales of identifying talent present significant ongoing operational challenges and puts pressure on businesses with respect to time, finance, quality, etc.

HR Director, spacecraft design company
Types of impacts of skills gaps on respondents with gaps. Data comes from Q30. Data from 2020 comes from Figure 19 of that report and is for any skills issue rather than skills gap specifically.

Recruitment

62% of organisations had recruited in the past 12 months; 48% recruited primarily to expand, while 15% primarily replaced leavers, shown in Table 3. This is down from 70% in 2020, but the phrasing of the question was different.

38% of organisations had not recruited in the past 12 months; 29% did not need to hire, and 9% had a hiring freeze in place.

Respondents reported the number of roles they recruited for in the past 12 months. This data was used alongside the size of their space workforce (see Table 16 in Appendix B) to calculate an approximate hiring rate. For example, a company with 10 space employees hiring 5 people would have a hiring rate of 50%.

Hiring type % of respondents who are recruiting Median hires Median hiring rate
Expanding 77% 4 25%
Maintaining 23% 3 16%
Median proportion and number of hires per organisation. Data comes from Q15 and Q16.

The organisations who completed the survey had a combined space workforce of approximately 12,000, and recruited for a total of around 1,500 roles in the past 12 months. This gives an overall approximate hiring rate for the sector of around 12%.

Recruitment by skills theme

Respondents provided a list of roles they had recruited for in the past 12 months, further details about each role, and stated how difficult it was to hire. In total, information was provided for 834 vacancies across 366 roles.

The software & data and systems engineering themes had the most vacancies, together making up half (49%) of all vacancies, shown in Figure 5.

Number of reported vacancies in each theme. Data comes from Q17.

Respondents rated each role they recruited for on a 1-5 scale of ‘very easy’ (1) to ‘very difficult’ (5), and recorded the time in weeks taken to hire for the role, from publishing the advert to having a candidate accept an offer (not including time taken to complete tasks such as agreeing the advert wording, the candidate serving their notice period, or onboarding).

About two thirds (72%) of vacancies were difficult or very difficult to recruit for. Using the scale above, roles scored on average 3.8 out of 5, and took a median of 10 weeks to hire for, shown in Figure 6.

It varies a lot, sometimes almost nobody applies and after advertising again we have a reasonable amount of replies but all useless. It is hard to find anyone in general, it takes patience.

Head of Research Group, major university
Proportion of vacancies by difficulty and median time to hire. Data comes from Q17.

The most difficult areas to recruit for were electronics (with a mean score 4.2 out of 5), systems engineering (4.1), and spacecraft operations (4.0), shown in Table 4. Figure 7 shows that systems engineering was the most challenging area, where both demand is high and it is also very difficult to recruit.

In the UK, we've got very good systems engineers, people who can design a spacecraft bus or payloads - we've got some of the best in the world in this country. But if we're looking at an end-to-end picture, from research and development through to design, testing, and then launch, we've got some major skills gaps.

Anonymous interviewee
Role theme n % of vacancies Median time to hire (weeks) Mean recruitment difficulty score (1-5)
Electronics design 83 10% 12 4.2
Systems engineering 186 23% 13 4.1
Spacecraft operations 33 4% 26 4.0
Software & data 216 26% 10 3.7
Maintenance, manuf. etc. 49 6% 12 3.6
Aero/mechanical design 66 8% 10 3.5
Sector support 92 11% 7 3.5
Commercial operations 101 12% 6 3.3
Recruitment difficulty for each role theme. Data comes from Q17.
Summary of demand and difficulty for each role theme.

Time to hire is particularly long for spacecraft operations roles, but it should be noted that the sample size is smaller than for other roles. The 2020 survey also noted that businesses working in satellite operations reported the most skills gaps.

Of the technical roles, those in aero/mechanical design are reported as the easiest to fill, taking an average of 10 weeks. These roles are typically filled by people with aerospace engineering degrees, and this pathway into the sector has grown in popularity. The 2020 Space Census found that aerospace engineering has become a much more common route into space, with 21% of under 35s in the sector having studied it, up from 8% of over 35s. By contrast, electronic engineering has become less popular, dropping from 12% of over 35s to 6% of under 35s 7.

Commercial operations and sector support roles are the easiest to hire for, taking just 7 weeks to fill on average. While these roles often require knowledge of the space sector, the skills they require are typically more transferable between sectors, giving employers access to a larger pool of candidates.

Overall, these results align with previous findings. The 2020 survey highlighted a shortage of software, radio frequency, electronics, and systems engineers, and another report on skills demand for early career space jobs found that the most sought-after technical skill was software development, required by almost half of all jobs 8.

Recruitment by seniority level

In the past 12 months, demand has been highest for mid-level roles (60% of those reported), with demand for junior (22%) and senior positions (18%) about equal.

There are some notable differences between the breakdown of demand by seniority in different skills areas. Demand for junior roles appears to be very low in spacecraft operations (9% vs 22% average) and systems engineering (13%); demand for senior roles appears to be very low in maintenance & manufacturing (4% vs 18% average) and sector support (9%); aero/mechanical and commercial roles are split between senior and junior roles, with lower demand for the mid-level roles (50% vs 60% average).

Demand for roles by seniority and theme in the past 12 months. This table excludes apprenticeships, internships, and roles without a theme classification. Data comes from Q17.

So far we've mostly only recruited at fresh grad level. No problems there. It starts to get more difficult (and expensive) when looking at 3+ years' experience.

Director, space consultancy

We generally try later hires because we want people with the experience. Grads come in with good brains, but you need to train them and they need to build experience, but I believe seasoned hires bring a combination of both.

Andy Butt, Head of Business Development and Commercial, Reliance Precision

We have had 5 open vacancies for mid-level electronics design engineers for more than 2 years, and have only managed to fill 1 post in that time. Similarly, we have had 2 graduate posts open for the same time and have only managed to fill 1.

Head of Operations, research facility
Role seniority level % of vacancies
n = 833
Median time to hire (weeks) Mean recruitment difficulty score (1-5)
Senior 17% 13 4.2
Mid level 58% 10 3.8
Junior 22% 8 3.4
Internship 1% 6 2.8
Apprenticeship 1% 4 2.7
All 100% 10 3.8
Proportion of vacancies, time to hire, and difficulty by seniority level. Data comes from Q17.

More senior roles are harder to recruit for and take longer to fill than junior roles, as shown in Table 5. These results mirror those of the 2020 survey, which found that “entry-level positions receive a lot of applications, allowing employers the luxury of choice within the graduate market”, and suggests a bottleneck in retaining graduates to reach these mid-level positions.

Many graduate schemes also report being oversubscribed 9. In 2021, the Space Placements in Industry (SPIN) scheme, which provides students and graduates with industry experience, received approximately 3,500 applicants for around 60 placements, an average of 58 applications per internship 10.

Applications for these positions [interns and graduates] have been extensive with upwards of 200 applicants per position.

Project Manager, prime

With the expansion of space companies in the UK, the pool of experienced candidates with full life cycle of a mission is incredibly rare. We are able to attract graduates and less experienced engineers but the lack of experienced resource has hampered recruitment.

Head of HR, satellite manufacturer

Recruitment by location

Recruitment can be broken down by location, but only for organisations that have a single site, since data was not collected on where the recruitment took place. These results are displayed in Table 6.

Organisations that have more than one site are typically large, so are growing fastest in absolute terms despite having a relatively low hiring rate.

Region n of orgs % of region’s orgs recruiting Median hiring rate (%) Median time to hire (weeks) Mean recruitment difficulty score (1-5)
Wales 5 100% 18% 8 2.6
Yorkshire and The Humber 8 88% 16% 9 3.8
Multiple regions 44 84% 6% 12 4.0
East Midlands 10 80% 14% 12 3.4
East of England 10 80% 15% 9 4.0
North East 7 71% 17% 16 3.9
Scotland 17 65% 27% 12 3.5
Northern Ireland 9 56% 4% 4 3.0
South West 28 54% 10% 6 3.2
London 38 53% 18% 6 3.5
South East 34 44% 17% 16 4.0
West Midlands 5 40% 30% 4 2.8
North West 3 - - - -
All 218 64% 15% 10 3.8
Scale and difficulty of space recruitment in the past 12 months by region. An alternative breakdown by cluster is provided in Table 30 in Appendix C. Note, however, that many regions and space clusters have small sample sizes, so the results should be viewed with caution. Data for the North West has been suppressed to avoid being identifying.

Recruitment by organisation size

Hiring rates vary significantly based on space workforce size, since adding just a couple of people to a very small team results in a very high hiring rate. The median hiring rate for micro space workforces is 41%, while for larger workforces it is 8%.

Smaller organisations, especially micro ones, report finding it less difficult to recruit than larger ones. The median time to hire for large and medium sized organisations was 12 weeks, compared to just 4 weeks for micro organisations, as shown in Table 7.

Organisation size % of orgs
n = 136
Median hires Median hiring rate % of roles
n = 834
Median time to hire (weeks) Mean recruitment difficulty score (1-5)
Large (250+) 5% 40 8% 31% 12 4.1
Medium (50-249) 14% 10 11% 40% 12 3.7
Small (10-49) 28% 4 18% 20% 9 4.0
Micro (1-9) 52% 2 41% 9% 4 3.0
All 100% 3 25% 100% 10 3.8
Scale and difficulty of space recruitment in the past 12 months by organisation size, where hiring.

Recruitment by segment

Responding organisations are typically active across more than one segment of the space sector, shown in Table 8. Those engaging in space applications are hiring slightly more people on average (median of 5 hires, vs 3 for the whole sector), while the rate of hiring is slightly higher for organisations working in space operations (18%, vs 14% for the whole sector).

Segment n Median hires Median hiring rate (%)
Manufacturing 150 4 14%
Operations 84 4 18%
Applications 97 5 13%
Ancillary 101 4 16%
All 218 3 14%
Hiring rate by segment. All of the segment medians being higher than the overall median is an example of Simpson's paradox.

Recruitment difficulties

Of the 62% of respondents who recruited in the last 12 months, 80% faced recruitment difficulties. This is significantly higher than the 2020 survey’s result of 61%.

The two most commonly cited reasons were that applicants lacked the required specialist skills, knowledge, or qualifications (76%) for the role, or that there simply were not enough applicants in the first place (67%). These results, displayed in Table 9, are extremely similar to the 2020 survey, but worse than in other sectors of the UK economy. A study across all sectors found that 42% of organisations had a lack of applicants for their roles. 11

We've had to accept that we're never going to find somebody with the precise skills that we need. It's a case of looking for someone with a broad education who possesses basic engineering skills and some knowledge in our specific field of interest.

Dr Martin Heywood, Director, Newton Launch Systems
Specific recruitment difficulty 2020
n = 41
2023
n = 105
Change (pp)
Applicants lacked the required specialist skills, knowledge, or qualifications 73% 76% +3
There weren't enough applicants - 67% -
Applicants lacked the required behaviours, attitude, motivation or personality 27% 24% -3
Other 15% 19% +4
Specific challenges faced by respondents who had difficulties hiring in the past 12 months. Data comes from Q18. Data from 2020 comes from Figure 12 of that report.

Reasons for recruitment difficulties

Respondents who had recruited and experienced difficulties gave reasons for their difficulties, as shown in Figure 9.

Reasons for recruitment difficulties faced by respondents who were hiring in the past 12 months. Data comes from Q19. Results for 2020 come from figure 12 of that report. Note that the wording related to recruiting from abroad differed between the 2020 and 2023 surveys (see below).
Competition with other employers

The main cause cited for difficulty recruiting was competition, both with other sectors (68%) and with other space companies (45%).

When it comes to getting people like RF engineers a lot will get pulled straight to large organisations [...], because they've got a higher budget than what we can afford to pay at the moment.

Derek Harris, Business Operations Manager, Skyrora

While competition from other space companies has remained largely constant since the 2020 survey, competition with other sectors has increased significantly. Table 10 shows that respondents reported that those leaving the space sector tended to go into engineering (39%), tech/IT (20%), and government/defence (12%), however more research is needed to identify exactly which parts of these sectors are attracting space-qualified people.

I think it will be a challenge to attract people from other sectors. If you’re someone working in manufacturing looking at, for example, factory efficiencies, you'll never think that you can work in space. It's not just it's not going to occur to you to even look. So how do you find those people? That's the problem.

Portia Bowman, CEO, Growbotics

I'm not sure that the space sector is doing a good job of selling its career pathways. We need to provide a compelling reason why they should join this industry.

Anonymous interviewee

We have many people that want to come and work with us because they see us as trying to address challenges that really matter to people. There is not a single application of space technology and Earth observation that doesn't have a sustainability lens to it.

Anonymous interviewee

High competition with the tech sector is unsurprising given the similar demand for software skills, and the disparities in pay. The 2020 Space Census found that tech sector pays on average £10,000 more than space 12, and the public sector often faces similar pay-related challenges.

Data scientists are a key part of our delivery plan, but it’s difficult to recruit and retain them, because we are competing with the likes of Google, and their higher salaries they can pay compared to a public sector organisation like OS.

Dr Jason Hopkins, Senior Innovation & Research Scientist, OS
Sector % of respondents
n = 47
All engineering (general engineering, energy, aviation and automotive) 39%
Tech/IT 20%
General engineering 18%
Government/defence 12%
Consultancy 8%
Aviation/aerospace 8%
Other (incl. recruitment, hospitality, disaster management, health) 8%
Energy 7%
Automotive/Formula 1 7%
Finance 7%
Education/academia 7%
Sectors respondents say their employees have left the space sector for. Data comes from Q46.
Uncompetitive pay

Uncompetitive pay is the second biggest issue in recruitment, cited by 39% of respondents. This remains almost unchanged since 2020 and is similar to findings for most sectors, where 31% of organisations report that offering competitive salaries is a challenge for recruitment 13. Uncompetitive pay is marginally more of a challenge for recruitment for large companies (34%) than for SMEs (28%).

Previous research has shown that while very few (<1%) people, especially in their early career, were originally motivated by pay to join the space sector 14, it is an important factor in hiring more experienced professionals with skills sought after by other sectors.

We no longer receive applications from candidates from EU countries or the US. Pay levels are too low.

Physics lecturer, major university

We can recruit graduates quite readily in most disciplines (with the exception of electronics). However when we lose staff with 10+ years experience we are generally unable to recruit replacements with equivalent experience as our pay is uncompetitive.

Head of Operations, research facility

Start-up space companies are offering very high salaries to attract experienced engineers which has created unsustainable salary expectations when recruiting.

Head of HR, satellite manufacturer
Location

Difficulty in attracting people to the organisation’s location was cited by 30% of respondents, down from 49% in 2020.

Anyone trying to come into Cornwall really struggles due to the housing crisis down here. We've tried so much to help. We've house hunted on their behalf, we've got in touch with estate agents & landlords, just so employees could find somewhere to live to be able to work for us.

Felicity Searle, HR & Finance Manager, Piran Advanced Composites

There’s a dearth of RF capability in the north. Whilst there is RF talent in the UK, there’s a lot of competition, because geographically it seems that everyone who has RF experience is based in the south.

Anonymous interviewee

This significant drop is likely related to the shift towards remote work following the COVID-19 pandemic, which occurred immediately following the 2020 survey. 21% of organisations report being fully or primarily remote (see section on remote working in Appendix B) and for many, this has allowed them to recruit from a much broader pool of talent, although it is not without its challenges.

We can recruit nationally now, so that has opened up a new talent pool for us.

Dr Jason Hopkins, Senior Innovation & Research Scientist, OS

On one side there's the togetherness and team spirit that comes from being in the same office every day, and then you have the flexibility and the ability to recruit from anywhere in the UK.

Chris Spedding, Programme Manager, BASIC

Recruiting from abroad

Challenges in recruiting from abroad were cited by 34% of respondents, down from 61% in 2020. This significant drop is likely to be related to a change in wording of the question. In 2020 the option was ‘Brexit reducing ability to attract people from Europe’. The UK left the EU in January 2020, and the survey was conducted in autumn 2020, reflecting on late 2019 and early 2020.

Just over a third (36%) of companies have tried to hire from outside of the UK. Overseas recruitment is more common among large (58%) and medium organisations (56%) than small (38%) or micro (16%) ones, shown in Figure 10.

Among employers that said they had not received enough applications, 61% had tried to recruit from overseas, compared to 25% of those who said they received enough applications. Respondents were not surveyed on why they tried to recruit from overseas, but some respondents commented that they had difficulty in finding enough skilled people in the UK.

We don't try to recruit software developers in the UK anymore, because they're in such high demand. So I go to Pakistan, I go to India, because they're ready to go, they're fantastically skilled, and there's many more applicants.

Jonathan Hendry, Chief Technology Officer, 4EI

[There are] not enough UK candidates and we have to consider sponsorship for roles

Chief of Staff, test facility provider
Proportion of respondents who tried to recruit from abroad in the last 12 months. Data comes from Q20.

Barriers to overseas recruitment

Among the 36% of organisations who tried to recruit from abroad, 21% were not successful, and 83% faced some type of barrier to recruitment, such as high costs, lengthy lead times, and the complexity of the visa application process, shown in Figure 11.

What I have seen recently is that as soon as international candidates look into the costs and what they have to do to get through the visa process, they’ve rejected offers and decided not to come to the UK.

Rhiannon Owen, Talent Acquisition Partner, Satellite Applications Catapult

Getting the sponsorship licence wasn't that difficult, but it was time consuming and cost about £2,000-3,000 per head. Before Brexit, any European person could just come and work and all they needed was a contract. Now we have to balance out that cost with how long they are going to stay here; or if they get the experience here and then move to a prime.

Derek Harris, Business Operations Manager, Skyrora
Reasons for recruitment difficulties faced by respondents who tried to hire from abroad in the past 12 months. Data comes from Q22.

Skill gaps in job applicants

61% of organisations reported seeing skills gaps in job applicants, slightly higher than for the current workforce (52%).

This issue is again most acute for large organisations, where 84% report a skills gap in job applicants, shown in Figure 12.

Proportion of respondents reporting skills gaps in job applicants by company size. Data comes from Q24.

Of those reporting a skills gap in job applicants, 69% have a gap in software & data skills, again driven by a need for skills in AI & machine learning (52%), software engineering (37%) and data analysis & modelling (31%), shown in Table 11. There also are significant gaps in job applicants in systems engineering (42%), strategy & leadership (40%), and radio frequency & telecoms engineering (37%).

We talk to large defence companies, and they're always saying the same thing: we can't find FPGA engineers, we can't find power engineers, we can't find RF engineers, we can't find electronic engineers.

Adam Taylor, Founder & Lead Engineer, Adiuvo Engineering & Training
Skill Theme % reporting skills gap in job applicants
n = 131
Artificial intelligence and machine learning Software & data 52%
Systems engineering Systems engineering 42%
Strategy & leadership Commercial operations 40%
Software engineering Software & data 37%
Radio frequency & telecoms engineering Electronics design 34%
Project management Transferable skills 32%
Data analysis & modelling Software & data 31%
Technical leadership Transferable skills 31%
Data processing & manipulation Software & data 29%
Analogue and digital systems Electronics design 26%
Assembly, integration, and testing Maintenance, manufacturing & materials 25%
Education and training Sector support 25%
Communication Transferable skills 24%
Funding & incubation Sector support 22%
Problem solving Transferable skills 21%
Top 15 skills gaps in job applicants, full list in Table 28 in Appendix C. Data comes from Q27.

The breakdown of these skills gaps is very similar to that of gaps in the current workforce, shown in Figure 13. However there are three notable exceptions: transferable skills (+14 percentage points in job applicants), maintenance & manufacturing (+12), and aero/mechanical design (+12). It is unclear why this is the case, but it may point to these skills being easier to learn on the job, or to changes in the supply of people with these skills.

Proportion of respondents reporting a skills gap in their current workforce and job applicants. Data comes from Q27.

Skills in the future workforce

Half (50%) of organisations expect that their skills needs will be different in three years’ time. The demand for different skills is higher across the board than for the current workforce or job applicants, suggesting that skills problems will get worse without intervention.

Software & data skills are again most in demand, cited by 81% of those expecting their skills needs to change, with AI & machine learning in particular at 70%. The other skills needed in the future workforce are shown in Figure 14 and Table 12.

It's a little unclear where and how we're going to utilise AI, but I think it's unavoidable that we will. We're looking at AI and machine learning capability to improve productivity, to maximise what can be done with available resources, and to achieve outcomes that might not otherwise be possible.

Prof. Simon Evetts, R&D Director Blue Abyss & Visiting Prof. Northumbria University
Skills respondents expect to need in three years’ time grouped by theme. Data comes from Q32.
Skill Theme % expecting to need skill in 3 years
n = 101
Artificial intelligence & machine learning Software & data 70%
Strategy & leadership Commercial operations 58%
Project management Transferable skills 49%
Technical leadership Transferable skills 47%
Data analysis & modelling Software & data 44%
Software engineering Software & data 44%
Systems engineering Systems engineering 42%
Problem solving Transferable skills 40%
Data processing & manipulation Software & data 38%
Sales & commercial Commercial operations 37%
Team work Transferable skills 36%
Data visualisation Software & data 35%
Assembly, integration, and testing Maintenance, manufacturing & materials 35%
Communication Transferable skills 34%
Manufacturing and materials Maintenance, manufacturing & materials 33%
Top 15 skills respondents expect to need in three years’ time, full list in Table 29 in Appendix C. Skills. Data comes from Q32.

Training provision

Scale of provision of training

Almost three quarters (72%) of organisations have provided training in the last 12 months, down slightly from 80% in 2020.

Almost all organisations larger than micro have provided training (87% of large, 89% medium, and 83% small), compared to only half of micro organisations (50%). This is a similar pattern to 2020.

Organisations in the space sector appear to provide more training than other sectors in the UK economy. Across all sectors only 48% of organisations provided training in 2021 16, although the impact of COVID-19 at this time did slightly reduce the amount of training provided by employers. However, it is interesting to note that there are still major skills gaps in the current space workforce despite the high level of training provision.

We put all our junior employees through the Prince II foundation course. And as they were then applying that to projects they were working on, we then advance them into the next level.

Ralph Dinsley, Founder/Managing Director, 3S Northumbria Ltd

[I] firmly believe we need to invest in hands-on training in the workplace [...] to remain competitive.

Managing Director, spacecraft manufacturing company

Among the 28% of organisations who did not provide training, 58% said their staff did not require it, and 30% said there was a barrier to provision.

Types of training provided

On-the-job training, both formal (92%) and informal (84%), is very common among respondents. This is an increase on the 2020 survey, where 73% of respondents reported doing informal on the job training.

External training is much less popular (54%), but aligns with national figures across all sectors of the UK economy (54%) 17.

In the 2020 survey, 54% of organisations reported doing formal external training. The breakdown for all types of training are displayed in Table 13.

Space technical formal training is very limited, which is why we self train

Head of Space, services company
Type of training % of respondents
n = 154
Formal training on the job training (e.g. structured training programme) 92%
Informal on the job training (e.g. shadowing more experienced staff) 84%
Any on the job training 92%
External accredited training (e.g. CPD course) 39%
External unaccredited training (e.g. a webinar) 37%
Any external training 54%
Sponsoring further study such as an apprenticeship or degree 30%
Secondments 14%
Other 7%
Types of training provided by respondents in the last 12 months. Data comes from Q35.

Training providers

Respondents primarily get training from their own staff (88%), private training companies (53%), and professional bodies (39%).

Organisations in the space sector are more likely to use a university for training than organisations in the wider UK economy, with 38% of space sector organisations using them compared to the average across all sectors of 7%. Further education colleges are used by 11% of space sector organisations compared to 15% across all sectors. 18

We have trained and teamed up with the local college. We are the accredited training provider, and can provide an engineering degree, so within four years, we get exactly what we want back out of it.

Andy Butt, Head of Business Development and Commercial, Reliance Precision

The proportion of training provided internally has increased significantly (+19 percentage points) since 2020, while the use of Further Education colleges has decreased (-8), as shown in Figure 15.

Training providers used by respondents. Data comes from Q36. Data from 2020 comes from Figure 22 of that report.

Barriers to training

Barriers to providing training included lack of time (65%) and lack of budget (36%), as shown in Figure 16. Lack of any available training was only cited by 25% of respondents.

We are interested in hearing from more mid-career professionals rather than graduates with no experience, where the burden of training is on the employer.

Managing Director, space situational awareness company

Scaling a company means there is a sudden need for internal training which is expensive to prepare quickly

CEO, space software company

Why isn’t there an organisation in the UK offering vocational training to the space sector in the same way that other industry sectors have (e.g. CITB for construction)? Ideally it would be an organisation where new graduates are trained to bring them up to industry standards and apprentices could learn basic skills.

Dr Martin Heywood, Director, Newton Launch Systems
Types of barriers to providing training. Data comes from Q38.

Engagement with education providers

Scale of engagement with education providers

86% of respondents have engaged with education providers such as schools, colleges, and universities, with largest organisations being the most likely to have some engagement.

We have a great working relationship with our local education providers, but what we do lack is the capacity to fit more or anything in at present due to lack of skilled staff & management having to be more hands on.

Managing Director, space systems company

All (100%) large organisations have had some engagement with education providers, compared to 95% of medium, 88% of small, and 74% of micro organisations. This is unsurprising, as larger organisations tend to have dedicated outreach personnel, while smaller organisations typically have less capacity to engage.

It is not clear how an SME can contact educators – the system seems designed for the very large companies. For example, there is no clear way to contact universities via single contact point to send messages to students graduating this year describing our open positions

Director, RF engineering company

We fall into the position, like many other universities, where we are training for big businesses, and not small ones or start-ups. This lack of provision fuels part of the skills gap to the sector. Universities might not want to admit to this or adapt their courses to account for this or might not have yet recognised this as an issue and potentially overlooked the issue.

Dr Peter Shaw, Senior Lecturer in Astronautics, Kingston University

Types of education engaged with

The most common form of engagement is doing outreach (71%), by giving talks (65%) or attending events (49%), shown in Figure 17. Previous research has found that events are a major influence on people’s decision to join the space sector, cited by more than 40% of the current workforce 19.

Work experience/internships are provided by 56% of space sector organisations. This is comparable to the wider engineering sectors, with 57% of companies surveyed by the IET providing work experience for school-aged students 20.

We work directly with schools and students to encourage them towards STEM and space. We also work with colleges and universities on course development and to make sure that there is a talent pipeline of students coming through with the right skills in the future

Dave Pollard, Education and Outreach Manager, Spaceport Cornwall
Proportion of organisations who engaged with education in different ways. Data comes from Q40.

Provision of apprenticeships

Just under a third (30%) of organisations provide apprenticeships, up 10 percentage points from 2020. This aligns with an increase in the number of apprentices of 9 percentage points across all sectors since 2020/21 21, and is driven by a 19 percentage point increase in the number of small businesses taking on apprentices. Previous research has found that 20% of those working in the space sector hold a vocational qualification such as an apprenticeship 22.

The provision of apprenticeships varies significantly with organisation size, from 63% of large organisations to just 8% of micro organisations, shown in Table 14.

Apprenticeships are impossible to access for small companies like ours.

CEO, testing provider
Organisation size 2020
n = 96
2023
n = 214
Change (pp)
Large (250+ employees) 58 63 +5
Medium (50-249) 46 -8 -8
Small (10-49) 11 30 +19
Micro (1-9) 9 8 -1
All 20 30 +10
Proportion of respondents who provided apprenticeship programmes. Data comes from Q41. Data from 2020 comes from Table 3 of that report.

Apprenticeships are provided at all levels with roughly the same frequency, shown in Table 15.

Apprenticeship type % of respondents
n = 64
Intermediate (Level 2) 45
Advanced (Level 3) 47
Higher (Level 4-5) 42
Degree-level (Level 6-7) 48
Proportion of respondents who provided apprenticeships. Data comes from Q42.

Retention

Scale of retention problems

Nearly half (45%) of organisations reported having difficulties retaining their space staff in the past 12 months. Retention is a bigger problem for established organisations than for micro ones, as shown in Figure 18.

Retention is also more of a challenge in 2023 than it was in 2020, but it should be noted that the 2020 survey asked about “staff in scientific, engineering, or technical roles”, while this survey simply asked about “space-related staff” to consider the whole space workforce.

Proportion of organisations with retention issues by size. Data comes from Q44. Data from 2020 comes from Figure 17 of that report (with different question wording).

Reasons for poor retention

As shown in Figure 19, the two most commonly cited causes of poor retention are poaching of staff by other space companies (57%), and low salaries (48%), and these issues are likely linked.

Causes of poor retention. Data comes from Q45. Data from 2020 comes from Figure 18 of that report.

Similar issues cause problems for both recruitment and retention, shown in Figure 20.

Comparison of how particular issues affect retention and recruitment differently.

Competition with other employers

Competition with other space companies when trying to retain staff was cited by 32% of respondents in 2020 and has increased significantly to 57% in 2023. This suggests that demand for experienced space professionals is increasing faster than supply.

An important difference in the challenges faced in recruiting and retaining is that when recruiting, the main challenge is competing against other sectors (68% other sectors vs 45% space), and when retaining, the main challenge is competing against other space companies (57% space companies vs 16% other sectors). This suggests that once staff enter the space sector they are likely to stay, even if they move to other space companies.

Competition within the space industry and over eager recruiters [make it] difficult to retain staff.

Senior Systems Engineer, systems engineering company

It is extremely difficult to find people in the UK with the right skills. Maintaining staff is the best thing you can do - but there is competition from startups.

Professor of Earth Observation, major university

Pay

Low salaries are a cause of both recruitment (39%) and retention (48%) challenges. This remains almost unchanged since 2020. Uncompetitive pay and conditions is more of a challenge for retention for large companies (57%) than for SMEs (45%).

The 2020 Space Census found that pay was one of the important factors in why people would choose to leave their current role and found that those who were looking to change jobs were, on average, paid £8,000 less than those who were staying put 23. The 2022 Size & Health of the UK Space Industry report also found that 76% of respondents identified the cost of living crisis as a negative impact on their employees 24, and this was also raised by many respondents. Many respondents also noted challenges in being able to decide on where to invest in new staff and training, due to the lack of long-term clarity and direction from government, which the government intends to address as set out in the National Space Strategy in Action 25.

Staff retention is generally very good >90%, but cost of living and keeping salaries up particularly when waiting on long term opportunities to come to fruition [...] has been a challenge.

Managing Director, spacecraft design company

Lack of development opportunities

Companies that provide training are slightly less likely to report retention difficulties due to lack of development opportunities than those who do not (34% vs 40%).

Training is a huge commitment and essential. What happens if we train people and they leave? What happens if we don't train people and they stay?

CEO, testing provider

Retirement

Retirement was cited by 21% of respondents with retention challenges. While there is no detailed data about retirement figures for the UK space workforce, in 2021 the European Space Agency (ESA) reported that they expect 20% of their workforce to retire by 2025 26.

There is also some evidence to suggest that the UK space sector is a relatively young sector; a 2015 survey of the international space sector found that 42% of workers were over 55 years-old 27, but a survey of the UK space sector in 2020 found the equivalent figure for the UK was just 17% 28.

Everybody's in their mid-50s or older, and I could count on three fingers how many people we have under 30 with RF skill sets. That's a big problem for the continuity of the business. It's also a big problem for the UK.

Anonymous interviewee

Bullying and harassment

Only 1% of respondents identified bullying and harassment as a reason for poor retention. While they are under no obligation to report on bullying and harassment statistics in a government survey, this is despite the 2020 Space Census finding that 41% of women and 10% of men report experiencing some form of discrimination or harassment in the sector 29.

Providing these inclusive environments where people can see themselves reflected, that is far more important than just hiring the diversity hire. And what you've not done is create an environment to make them want to stay to breed innovation in order to get them the benefit from diversity within an organisation versus a look in house.

Adele Fox, Marketing Director, EVONA

Immigration-related issues

Immigration-related issues are a problem when recruiting (34%) but not when retaining (7%). Note that the option on the 2020 survey related to immigration issues was ‘Brexit has led to staff moving out of the UK’. The UK left the EU in January 2020, and the 2020 survey was conducted in autumn 2020 reflecting on late 2019 and early 2020.

Impact of poor retention

The main impact of poor retention is to increase the workload for remaining staff (72%). This increased pressure can itself fuel a cycle of poor retention. All impacts are shown in Figure 21.

Types of impacts of poor retention on respondents with retention issues. Data comes from Q47.

Conclusions

The core issues have not changed

Skills gaps are a perennial problem within the space industry, as they are in many similar high-tech sectors 30.

Employers have skills gaps in their current workforces that hold back their growth and ability to innovate. They struggle to recruit and have to leave adverts up for a long time, because they face fierce competition from other STEM sectors that pay more, especially for software and data skills that are in very high demand. In particular, hiring for senior roles is a challenge due to a lack of availability of experienced professionals and a bottleneck in upskilling junior and mid-level workers. When employers do hire successfully, their new staff do not have all the skills required, and training is required. Once trained, these staff are often poached by other space companies and the cycle repeats.

This new survey has not revealed any significant new challenges, but instead gives more detail and data on the nature of the problem and an update on its scale since 2020.

The biggest changes in substance from 2020 relate to two seismic shifts that have happened outside of the space sector: The UK leaving the EU and COVID-19. Recruiting from abroad, whilst still a challenge, is less of an issue than it was immediately after leaving the EU, and a related difficulty in attracting people to a specific location has reduced now that COVID-19 has made remote working more practical and more commonplace.

The scale and significance of the problem has increased

While the core issues remain unchanged, their scale and significance have increased. In 2020, 67% of respondents reported some kind of skills-related challenge – skills gaps in their workforce, difficulties in recruitment, or challenges in retention. In 2023, that number has increased to 95%. In particular, retention issues have become more severe, shown in Figure 22. Three years ago 9% of respondents described the impact of those challenges on their business as ‘major’, today that number is 29%. This has reduced productivity, reduced quality, and held back innovation.

Proportion of organisations facing any skills-related issues. This chart summarises data presented earlier in the report. Data from 2020 comes from Table 2 of that report.

Software, systems, and RF are particular pain points

Three key areas of skills shortages stand out: software & data, systems engineering, and electronics engineering. In particularly high demand within these areas are skills in AI & machine learning, software engineering, and radio frequency & telecoms engineering. This is evident in the data on current and expected future skills needs, in recruitment difficulty, and in the number of roles being hired for.

These are not, however, the areas most commonly associated with space or emphasised by the sector. Space is most closely associated by students and the public with aerospace engineering, and the sector often chooses to emphasise this part of its work by displaying rockets and astronauts, engaging primarily with aerospace students, and providing training related to spacecraft and launch. Whilst this means that filling gaps in aero/mechanical engineering is relatively easy, it comes at the cost of being able to find qualified software, systems, and electronics engineers who are also in high demand elsewhere.

There's so many different areas of space that you can work in and have an impact. We need to make people aware that it's not just building and launching rockets and becoming an astronaut.

Anonymous interviewee

The UK Space Agency and the wider space community needs to work harder so that the perception from schools isn’t ‘astronaut or nothing’.

Rhiannon Owen, Talent Acquisition Partner, Satellite Applications Catapult

The workforce is skilled but space struggles to hire

Skills gaps in the current workforce are not uncommon in the space sector, with 52% of organisations reporting a gap, almost unchanged from 51% in 2020. However, this number is considerably lower than the 73% reported for the economy as a whole 31. The same study found that 42% of organisations in the wider economy faced a lack of applicants for their roles, but 67% of organisations responding to the Space Sector Skills Survey reported the same issue.

This suggests that although the current UK space sector workforce is highly skilled, organisations are struggling to recruit new people to the sector. However, this issue is not the same across all seniority levels, with graduate-level and junior roles appearing to be oversubscribed and highly competitive. The real challenge for the space sector lies in attracting mid-level and senior personnel to join the workforce, and this may require the space sector to look at recruiting from adjacent sectors to fill the gaps, or quickly upskill junior staff.

Salaries need to be competitive

The high-tech sectors that space competes with also tend to pay more. Pay is not a reason why people join the space sector, but it is a reason they leave or fail to join in the first place. Retention at a sector level is much less of a problem than recruitment; once people join the space industry they tend to stay, though they may move between space companies.

Recruitment is something that the sector can tackle. It is possible to make the sector more attractive, changing perceptions of space from rockets to data, to make recruitment from overseas easier, and to pay more to attract those from outside the sector. The sector can also provide training for those from other tech and engineering sectors to join, filling the gap at mid-career level.

Towards a space workforce action plan

Though the scale and significance of the space skills gap has increased since 2020, the challenges are not insurmountable. Many respondents to the survey identified a need for a plan from the UK Space Agency.

The July 2023 National Space Strategy in Action 32 set out the commitment to publish a Space Workforce Action Plan in 2024, based on the results of this report. The publication will be co-developed by government, industry, and academia, and is expected to set out a direction for the sector, and coordinate the actions that need to be taken.



Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all those who took the time to respond to the survey, especially those people who gave up their time to be interviewed (listed in Appendix F), as well as those who wished to remain anonymous.

We would also like to thank the Education and Future Workforce team at the UK Space Agency, the Space Directorate at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and members of the Space Skills Advisory Panel for their support in designing the survey and preparing this report.

Finally, thank you to ADS, Astroverse, Cornwall Space Cluster, Farnborough Aerospace Consortium, GVF, Harwell Space Cluster, The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, Northern Ireland Space Office, the Royal Aeronautical Society, the Royal Institute of Navigation, the Satellite Applications Catapult, Space East, Space Hub Yorkshire, Space Park Leicester, the Space Partnership, Space Scotland, Space South Central, the Space Universities Network, SpaceCareers.uk, SSPI UK, and UKspace for promoting the survey on social media, through newsletters, and by word of mouth.


Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You can copy, redistribute, and adapt what we’ve presented for any non-commercial purpose. However, you must give us credit and link back to this page. If you want to use it in a commercial context, get in touch with us at info@spaceskills.org.


Appendix A: Methodology

The Space Sector Skills Survey 2023 was conducted via an online form open for 6 weeks from 24th April to 2nd June 2023.

It comprised 51 questions covering recruitment, retention, skills needs and gaps, training provision, and engagement with education providers. The exact questions shown to each respondent depended on their answers to earlier questions. A version of the survey in Microsoft Word was also provided to help respondents prepare their responses.

In addition to the online survey, in-depth structured interviews were conducted with 21 respondents to gather qualitative data and more detailed answers. Quotes are included from both interviews and free text responses.

Audience

There are many different definitions of the ‘space sector’. The wording used in promoting the survey was:

All organisations employing space professionals or using space as part of their day-to-day operations. This includes companies that build and launch satellites, use Earth observation data, and build software for the space sector.

A target list of approximately 1,600 space organisations was compiled based on:

  • the KTN Space Sector Landscape Map 33
  • the Satellite Applications Catapult Capabilities Catalogue 34
  • the Space Enterprise Community 35
  • lists provided by regional space clusters
  • proprietary datasets

While the survey was promoted to all space sector organisations, it was advertised as a survey seeking to understand recruitment and skills challenges, and organisations self-selected to respond. Organisations who recently recruited or who have faced skills challenges may have been more likely to respond and therefore may be overrepresented in the sample.

Question design

A copy of all the survey questions is provided in Appendix D.

The questions were co-designed by Space Skills Alliance, know.space, UK Space Agency, and the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, with the goal of collecting actionable data about the skills issues within the UK space industry and addressing key policy questions.

All questions were optional. The majority were closed questions, but there were also free-form text boxes for respondents to provide additional information if they wanted to.

The wording was chosen where possible to align with the previous edition of the survey and with other space sector data sources such as the Size & Health of the UK Space Industry 36 report and the SpaceCRAFT competencies framework 37.

Promotion

The survey was shared by direct email with the list of target organisations. It was also included in email newsletters and social media posts sent out by a number of partner organisations, at several space sector events, and on the Space Enterprise Community. A list of organisations that assisted with promotion can be found in the acknowledgements.

Organisations received an initial email during the first week of the survey. If they had not responded, a follow up email was sent during the third week, fifth, and sixth (final) week of the survey. Where response rates were low for particular clusters or regions, localised follow up emails were also sent to encourage uptake.

Non-response rate

Overall the non-response rate was low, about 1% for questions that were relevant to all respondents. In most cases, non-responses were omitted, and the remaining responses were normalised to 100%. The exception is where the size of the non-response rate was comparable to the size of a valid response.

Interviews

In addition to the online survey, 21 in-depth structured interviews were conducted. The goal of the interviews was to provide qualitative detail and nuance on top of the quantitative survey data. Further detail is provided in Appendix E.

Processing and analysis

Removal of invalid and duplicate responses

Of the 250 responses received, 5 responses were removed as invalid. These included responses from companies with no UK operations, blank, or spam responses.

16 organisations provided multiple responses, totalling 43 responses between them. Each duplicate response was merged to provide a single response per organisation. Where sensible, responses were combined. Where responses differed, the most senior respondent's answer was chosen, or the respondent who gave the most complete answers were chosen.

Organisation type classification

Organisations were classified into industry, research (universities and research institutes), government (government agencies, funding bodies, defence and military), and third sector (charities and think tanks).

Location classification

Respondents were asked to answer where their organisation had operations. They could provide a postcode or a free text answer. These were reclassified into ITL/NUTS 1 38 regions as well as regional space clusters, based on clusters’ own definitions.

Skill and job theme classification

The themes used for skill and job classification are adapted from the SpaceCRAFT framework 39, with the addition of spacecraft operations to meet the needs of this survey:

  1. Aero/mechanical design
    Design and analysis of spacecraft, their subsystems, and components from an aerothermal and mechanical perspective.
  2. Systems engineering
    Designing, developing and verifying a space system as an integrated system able to fulfil the objectives of a mission within acceptable technical and programmatic frames.
  3. Electronics design
    Design and analysis of spacecraft electronic systems and telecommunications.
  4. Spacecraft operations
    Operation of and mission planning for spacecraft in space.
  5. Maintenance, manufacturing & materials
    Production, assembly, and testing of components and subsystems for satellites, spacecraft, and ground stations.
  6. Software & data
    Design and development of software for satellite operations and for processing of data collected by satellites.
  7. Sector support
    Work that supports the space sector as a whole such as through funding, policy development, economic analysis, and provision of education and training.
  8. Commercial operations / support staff
    Work that supports the operations of a business, such as ensuring that projects run to time, people have the support they need, progress is communicated to clients, and finances and contracts are properly managed.
  9. Transferable skills (not used in classification of jobs)
    Competencies that are required for most roles in the sector, regardless of specialism.

Quality assurance

Quality assurance (QA) is at the heart of all of our projects, with time set out in the project plan for internal assessments of report content and underpinning analysis in line with HM Treasury Aqua Book principles 40. Led by a team member otherwise uninvolved in the project, to ensure independence, QA activity focused on ensuring that survey data was correctly transposed, that there were no errors in spreadsheet calculations, and that conclusions for the report were evidence-based and with any caveats or limitations clearly communicated.


Appendix B: Sample profile

Sample Size

Organisations

The target sample size was 200 organisations. 250 responses from 218 organisations were received, including companies, government bodies, universities, and third sector organisations.

The total number of space companies in the UK is estimated to be 1,590, so this sample of 188 companies represents about 12% of the total. However, many space companies are very small, with only 162 organisations generating space income of more than £5m, accounting for 94% of the sector’s income 41.

Workforce

The total space workforce is estimated to be 48,800. However, this figure includes about 22,000 people working in direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting, which is generally considered separate from the rest of the sector 41.

The non-DTH space industry workforce is estimated to be about 26,800. The 188 companies in this sample report employing about 9,300 people in space-related roles, about 35% of the total non-DTH employment.

While the overall sample size is large enough to give us a high level of confidence in the accuracy of the findings, when looking at intersections of certain characteristics (for example company size and location), the sample sizes are considerably smaller. In these cases it is difficult to draw robust conclusions from the data, but it is useful in giving indications of trends and identifying areas for further research.

Though every effort was made to ensure that responses were collected from across the whole sector, there is likely to be some bias in this dataset.

Individual respondents

The individual survey respondents were primarily senior representatives of their organisations, managing a programme, division, or the whole organisation.

82% of responses were on behalf of a whole organisation, while the remaining 18% were on behalf of a specific site or team within the organisation, shown in Table 16.

Seniority level % of respondents
n = 201
CEO/Director level
(e.g. CEO, Managing Director)
50
Division director
(e.g. Chief Technology Officer, Head of Skills and Workforce Transformation)
20
Programme manager
(e.g. Project Manager, Space Analysis Lead)
16
Individual technical contributor
(e.g. Airborne Systems Engineer, Research Scientist)
10
Administrator
(e.g. Executive Assistant, HR Administrator)
3
The seniority level of survey respondents, classified based on their job titles. Data comes from Q4.

Organisation type

Respondents were overwhelmingly from businesses (86%). A small number of research organisations and groups (9%) also responded, encompassing fields such as space instrumentation, cubesats, Earth observation, and meteorology. The remaining responses came from government (3%) and third sector (2%) organisations.

Organisation size (number of UK employees)

Total size

Over two thirds (68%) of respondents are from micro or small organisations. This is a very similar result to the 2020 survey, and aligns closely to the 2020 KTN Space Landscape and 2023 Space Capabilities Catalogue (SCC), as shown in Table 17.

Organisation size S4 2020
n = 96
KTN 2020
n = 828
SCC 2023
n = 816
S4 2023
n = 218
Median number of UK employees (S4 2023)
Large (250+) 15 20 18 17 1756
Medium (50-249) 12 13 15 17 95
Small (10-49) 31 32 25 29 25
Micro (1-9) 39 35 42 37 4
Unknown 3 - - - -
Respondent organisations classified by size of UK workforce, using the OECD definitions of business size 42. Data comes from Q10. Data from 2020 comes from Figure 1 of that report.

Proportion in space-related roles

Our definition of space-related roles is those that support space activities. This includes everyone from satellite engineers to software developers to administrative staff, where they support space activities.

The proportion of a respondent organisation’s workforce that is space-related falls as the organisation increases in size. For large organisations (250+ employees), the median size of their space workforce as a proportion of their total workforce was 3%, compared to 54% for medium-sized organisations, 90% for small, and 100% for micro. This is unsurprising; small organisations are focused exclusively on space, while larger ones have space as just one aspect of their business. The breakdown is shown in Table 18.

Organisation size Median total number of UK employees Median number of UK space employees Median size of UK space workforce as % of total UK workforce
Large (250+) 1756 65 3%
Medium (50-249) 95 59 54%
Small (10-49) 25 12 90%
Micro (1-9) 4 3 100%
All 21 8 73%
Median number and proportions of employees and space employees in respondent organisations of different sizes. Data comes from Q10 and Q11.

Most space workforces are very small. The median is 8 people, 52% of teams are smaller than 10 people, and 81% are smaller than 50. The breakdown is shown in Table 19.

Organisation UK space workforce size % of respondents (n = 218) Median number of UK space employees
Large (250+) 5% 360
Medium (50-249) 14% 80
Small (10-49) 28% 19
Micro (1-9) 52% 3
All 100% 8
Respondent organisations classified by size of UK space workforce. Data comes from Q11.

Though an organisation may have a large total workforce, its space workforce may be very small. For example, 8% of large organisations have a space workforce equivalent to the size of a micro organisation (1-9 employees). The cross tabulation of size is shown in Table 20.

Large Medium Small Micro
Large (250+) 29% - - -
Medium (50-249) 26% 58% - -
Small (10-49) 37% 22% 63% -
Micro (1-9) 8% 19% 38% 100%
Cross tabulation of organisation UK space workforce size (rows) against total UK workforce size (columns). 8% of large organisations have a space workforce of fewer than 10 people.

Proportion in space technical specialist roles

Of the space-related workforce, 50-67% are in space technical specialist roles, as shown in Table 21. These are roles that require space-specific skills and knowledge (for example rocket engine design). The remaining 33-50% of the space-related workforce are in more generic roles that require an understanding of space but have significant skills overlaps with other sectors (such as general data processing).

Organisation size Median number of UK space specialists Median size of UK space specialist workforce as % of UK space workforce Median size of UK space specialist workforce as % of total UK workforce
Large (250+) 21 50% 1%
Medium (50-249) 20 55% 17%
Small (10-49) 4 56% 19%
Micro (1-9) 1 67% 50%
All 4 59% 17%
Median number and proportions of employees in space specialist roles in respondent organisations of different sizes. Data comes from Q10, Q11, and Q12.

In contrast to the space-related percentages in Table 17, the space specialist percentage is reasonably stable across different sizes of organisation as it relates more to the kinds of activities that an organisation engages in.

Location

Region

Respondents to the survey appear to well represent the regional distribution of the UK space sector, with the number of space sites in each region aligning closely with the results Size & Health of the UK Space Industry 2022 (S&H 2022) report. The breakdown is shown in Table 22.

Region S4 2020 (n = 96) S&H 2022 (n = 2202) S4 2023 (n = 292)
South East 47% 23% 24%
London 12% 18% 17%
South West 13% 11% 17%
Scotland 9% 8% 12%
East of England 7% 9% 6%
East Midlands 5% 5% 5%
Yorkshire and the Humber 2% 4% 5%
North East 1% 3% 3%
Northern Ireland 0% 2% 3%
Wales 1% 3% 3%
West Midlands 0% 5% 2%
North West 3% 6% 2%
Other 0% 3% 0%
Proportion of survey respondents’ sites in each region. Data comes from Q14. Results from the 2020 report come from figure 6 of that report; results from Size & Health come from page 34.

In this survey, the South West and Scotland are slightly overrepresented relative to Size & Health, by approximately 6 and 4 percentage points respectively. The West Midlands and North West are slightly underrepresented relative to Size & Health, by approximately 3 percentage points each.

There were very few respondents from the West Midlands region in particular. It is unclear why, but one possible reason is that many of the organisations identified are not obviously space-related, lying more in the supply chain. This means that they may have self-selected not to respond to a space-branded survey.

The South East and South West had very good representation, in part due to the strength of the clusters in these regions. Cornwall in particular was very well represented, likely because one of the researchers on this project was based in the region and had close ties with the cluster.

Space clusters

Organisations were not asked to respond to a question about which cluster they were part of. Instead, it was determined which cluster a site was part of by analysing its location by looking at membership lists provided by the clusters and postcodes provided by the respondents. The breakdown is shown in Table 23, and is intended to provide an indicative breakdown only.

Where organisations’ sites did not fit neatly into a cluster, they were grouped with their closest cluster. For example, sites in Plymouth (Devon, which does not have a space cluster) were grouped with the Cornwall Space Cluster, and organisations in Milton Keynes were grouped with Arc for Space.

There is not a London space cluster, but a significant number of space organisations are located there, so we include it as a pseudo-cluster. Additionally, Space Park Leicester and West Midlands are in the process of forming the Midlands Space Cluster so are included both individually and combined.

The cluster with the highest number of responses was London with 19% of the responses, followed by Space South Central (17%), and Space Scotland (12%).

Cluster % of respondents’ sites (n = 292)
London (a pseudo-cluster) 19%
Space South Central 17%
Space Scotland 12%
Cornwall Space Cluster 9%
Harwell Space Cluster 8%
Space West 7%
Midlands Space Cluster (East & West) 7%
Space Hub Yorkshire 5%
Space Park Leicester (East Midlands) 5%
North East Space Cluster 3%
Northern Ireland Space Office 3%
Space Wales 3%
Space East 3%
Arc for Space (Oxford-Cambridge) 2%
North West Space Cluster 2%
West Midlands Space Cluster 3%
Westcott Space Cluster <1%
Proportion of survey respondents’ sites in each space cluster. Data comes from Q14.

Space-related activities & segments

The space sector is generally divided into several segments, often referred to as ‘upstream’ (manufacturing and in-space activities), and ‘downstream’ (use of space data). These segments can be further broken down into activities.

Respondents were asked to classify their organisation’s activities according to the standard categories used by the Size & Health of the UK Space Industry survey, the Satellite Applications Catapult, and others. In the 2020 survey different categories were used. Table 24 compares the categories.

S4 2020 category S4 2023 / S&H category
Manufacture or research the manufacture of equipment or components which are used in space operations Space Manufacturing: Design and/or manufacture of space equipment and subsystems
Develop or research the development of software for use in space operations -
Research, manage or are involved in ground control, launch, or satellite operations Space Operations: Launch and/or operation of satellites
Research or consultancy related to space activities or operations Ancillary Services: Specialised support services
Research or operations are substantially or critically dependent on the capabilities or information supplied by satellites and related technologies Space Applications: Applications of satellite signals and data
Comparison of space sector categories used between surveys.

Organisations were typically engaged in multiple activities (median of 4 activities), across more than one segment (median of 2 segments). It is therefore difficult to neatly separate organisations into being ‘upstream’ or ‘downstream’, but Size & Health defines ‘upstream’ as space manufacturing plus space operations, and ‘downstream’ as space applications.

Over two thirds (71%) of organisations are doing some kind of manufacturing, 40% are involved in launch and spacecraft operations and 46% in satellite applications, and 48% are providing ancillary services, shown in Table 25. Responses are biased toward upstream segments of the space sector, such as space manufacturing. This may be because downstream organisations feel less connected to the space sector than other sectors like tech, and are therefore less likely to self-identify as the target audience of the Space Sector Skills Survey.

Segments (in bold) and activities 2020 (n = 96) 2023 (n = 212)
Space Manufacturing: Design and/or manufacture of space equipment and subsystems 47% 71%
Satellites/payloads/spacecraft and subsystems - 39%
Scientific and engineering support - 36%
Ground segment systems and equipment - 31%
Fundamental and applied research - 28%
Space test facilities - 20%
Scientific instruments - 20%
Suppliers of materials and components - 20%
Launch vehicles and subsystems - 17%
Space Operations: Launch and/or operation of satellites 38% 40%
Space surveillance & tracking (SST) - 16%
Ground station networks - 15%
Debris removal - 13%
Third-party ground segment operation - 11%
Proprietary satellite operation - 11%
Launch services - 10%
In-orbit servicing - 10%
Spaceports - 9%
In-space manufacturing - 8%
Launch brokerage services - 2%
Space tourism - 2%
Space Applications: Applications of satellite signals and data 50% 46%
Processors of satellite data - 27%
Applications leveraging satellite signals/data - 26%
Mobile satellite communication services - 12%
Fixed satellite communication services - 10%
Other (e.g. quantum key distribution) - 9%
Supply of user devices and equipment - 8%
Location-based signal service providers - 6%
Direct-To-Home (DTH) broadcasting - 3%
Ancillary Services: Specialised support services 54% 48%
Market research and consultancy services - 25%
Software and IT services - 24%
Business incubation and development - 14%
Policymaking, regulation and oversight - 14%
Legal and financial services - 5%
Launch and satellite insurance (inc. brokerage) services - 3%
Proportion of organisations engaged with space sector activities across each segment. Data comes from Q8. Results for 2020 come from figure 2 of that report.

Space-related capabilities

Respondents also reported the high-level space capabilities their organisations support through their space activities, shown in Table 26. These are the categories used in the Size & Health of the UK Space Industry 2022 report, and are equivalent to ‘sectors’ in OECD terminology.

Responding organisations typically have multiple overlapping areas of capability (median of 3 capabilities). Half (49%) of respondents have capabilities in space technologies, 46% in defence/military and in Earth observation (excluding meteorology), and 41% in science.

Capability % of responses (n = 217)
Space technologies 49%
Defence/military 46%
Earth observation (excl. meteorology) 46%
Science 41%
Satellite communication (excl. broadcasting) 35%
Positioning, navigation, timing (inc. GNSS) 33%
Generic technologies/components (e.g. AI) 32%
Space exploration 26%
Space transportation (inc. launch) 21%
Meteorology 21%
Financial, legal or other services 16%
Broadcasting 11%
None of the above 7%
Proportion of organisations with specific space-related capabilities. Data comes from Q9.

Remote working

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant and sustained increase in the number of people working remotely. 61% of organisations offer a hybrid model of in-person and remote work. 21% of organisations are primarily or fully remote, and 18% are primarily or fully in-person.


Appendix C: Additional data tables

Skills gaps in the current space workforce (full table)

Skill 2020 (n = 49) 2023 (n = 103) Change (pp)
Artificial intelligence and machine learning 33% 41% +8
Systems engineering 39% 39% 0
Data analysis & modelling (2023) / data analytics (2020) 22% 36% +14
Strategy & leadership (2023) / Leadership or motivational skills (2020) 18% 32% +14
Data processing & manipulation - 30% -
Software engineering 45% 29% -14
Radio frequency & telecoms engineering (2023) / radio frequency engineering (2020) 41% 28% -13
Technical leadership - 25% -
Project management 29% 24% -5
Analogue and digital systems - 23% -
Education and training - 22% -
Sales & commercial - 22% -
Regulation - 19% -
Data visualisation - 17% -
Assembly, integration, and testing - 17% -
Funding & incubation - 17% -
Cyber security - 15% -
Economics analysis - 15% -
Optoelectronic systems - 15% -
Safety & regulation - 15% -
Self-management - 15% -
Legal & financial - 14% -
Policy development - 14% -
Procurement 8% 14% +6
Problem solving - 13% -
Spacecraft operations - 12% -
Communication - 12% -
Manufacturing and materials - 12% -
Thermal 16% 12% -4
Team work 20% 11% -9
HR - 10% -
Robotics (electronics) 12% 10% -2
Structural - 8% -
Launch - 7% -
Robotics (mechanical) 12% 7% -5
Maintenance - 6% -
Propulsion - 5% -
Other - 5% -
Skills gaps in the current workforce. Data comes from Q27. Data from 2020 comes from Figures 14 and 15 of that report, scaled to an n of 49.
Skill Theme % reporting skills gap in job applicants (n = 131)
Artificial intelligence and machine learning Software & data 52%
Systems engineering Systems engineering 42%
Strategy & leadership Commercial operations 40%
Software engineering Software & data 37%
Radio frequency & telecoms engineering Electronics design 34%
Project management Transferable skills 32%
Data analysis & modelling Software & data 31%
Technical leadership Transferable skills 31%
Data processing & manipulation Software & data 29%
Analogue and digital systems Electronics design 26%
Assembly, integration, and testing Maintenance, manufacturing & materials 25%
Education and training Sector support 25%
Communication Transferable skills 24%
Funding & incubation Sector support 22%
Problem solving Transferable skills 21%
Self-management Transferable skills 20%
Sales & commercial Commercial operations 19%
Data visualisation Software & data 18%
Regulation Sector support 18%
Spacecraft operations Spacecraft operations 18%
Team work Transferable skills 17%
Thermal Aero/mechanical design 17%
Manufacturing and materials Maintenance, manufacturing & materials 16%
Safety & regulation Spacecraft operations 16%
Optoelectronic systems Electronics design 15%
Policy development Sector support 15%
Structural Aero/mechanical design 14%
Cyber security Software & data 13%
Launch Spacecraft operations 12%
Legal & financial Commercial operations 12%
Procurement Commercial operations 12%
Propulsion Aero/mechanical design 11%
Robotics (electronics) Electronics design 11%
Robotics (mechanical) Aero/mechanical design 11%
HR Commercial operations 11%
Economics analysis Sector support 8%
Maintenance Maintenance, manufacturing & materials 7%
Other - 9%
Skills gaps in job applicants. Data comes from Q27.

Skills in the future workforce (full table)

Skill Theme % expecting to need skill in 3 years (n = 101)
Artificial intelligence and machine learning Software & data 70%
Strategy & leadership Commercial operations 57%
Project management Transferable skills 49%
Technical leadership Transferable skills 47%
Data analysis & modelling Software & data 44%
Software engineering Software & data 44%
Systems engineering Systems engineering 42%
Problem solving Transferable skills 40%
Data processing & manipulation Software & data 38%
Sales & commercial Commercial operations 37%
Team work Transferable skills 36%
Data visualisation Software & data 35%
Assembly, integration, and testing Maintenance, manufacturing & materials 34%
Communication Transferable skills 34%
Manufacturing and materials Maintenance, manufacturing & materials 32%
Funding & incubation Sector support 32%
Education and training Sector support 31%
Policy development Sector support 31%
Cyber security Software & data 30%
Legal & financial Commercial operations 30%
Procurement Commercial operations 30%
Self-management Transferable skills 29%
Analogue and digital systems Electronics design 29%
Economics analysis Sector support 25%
Regulation Sector support 24%
Radio frequency & telecoms engineering Electronics design 23%
HR Commercial operations 22%
Spacecraft operations Spacecraft operations 21%
Safety & regulation Spacecraft operations 20%
Optoelectronic systems Electronics design 18%
Structural Aero/mechanical design 18%
Maintenance Maintenance, manufacturing & materials 17%
Propulsion Aero/mechanical design 17%
Robotics (mechanical) Aero/mechanical design 17%
Launch Spacecraft operations 16%
Robotics (electronics) Electronics design 14%
Thermal Aero/mechanical design 13%
Other - 6%
Skills respondents expect to need in three years’ time. Data comes from Q32.

Recruitment by cluster

Cluster n of orgs % of cluster’s orgs recruiting Median hire rate (%) Median time to hire (weeks) Mean recruitment difficulty score (1-5)
Space Wales 5 100% 18% 8 2.6
Space East 7 86% 11% 9 4.2
Multiple clusters 45 84% 6% 12 4.0
Space Hub Yorkshire 6 83% 16% 9 3.9
Space Park Leicester (East Midlands) 8 75% 14% 12 3.3
North East Space Cluster 7 71% 17% 16 3.9
Harwell Space Cluster 10 70% 29% 16 4.2
Space Scotland 17 65% 27% 12 3.5
Arc for Space 5 60% 29% 7 3.0
North West Space Cluster 5 60% 5% 4 3.7
Space West 10 60% 5% 6 3.6
West Midlands Space Cluster 7 57% 23% 4 3.1
Cornwall Space Cluster 17 53% 13% 4 2.9
London 39 51% 18% 6 3.5
Northern Ireland Space Office 8 50% 10% 3 3.3
Space South Central 21 33% 2% 14 3.8
Westcott Space Cluster 1 - - - -
All 218 64% 14% 10 3.8
Scale and difficulty of space recruitment in the past 12 months by space cluster. Data for Westcott Space Cluster has been suppressed to avoid being identifying.

Appendix D: Survey questions

The survey was presented as a single-page form, designed following Government Digital Service best practice, and with a focus on accessibility and compatibility with a wide range of web browsers.

The entire question set, exactly as presented to respondents can be found at survey.spaceskills.org. However, they are not included in this accessible version of the report.


Appendix E: Interview questions

The questions below are an indication of the kinds of questions asked to interviewees. The exact course of the interview was determined by their survey responses and where the conversation went.

Interview script

Hi I’m [name]. Thanks for agreeing to chat with us today.

I’m from [Space Skills Alliance/know.space]. The UK Space Agency (UKSA) and Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) has commissioned the Space Skills Alliance and know.space to identify national skills needs through the Space Sector Skills Survey.

The answers you have provided through the survey and this interview will directly feed into policy-making decisions at DSIT, and will be used by UKSA to inform funding of skills and training interventions.

I’m going to ask a few questions about your skills and training needs. If there’s anything you don’t want to talk about, that’s fine.

I’m going to be recording this call so that I don’t miss any of your points and you don’t have to just watch me writing things down. We won’t share the recording with anyone and it will be deleted after I transcribe it.

Quotes transcribed from your interview may be used in a report which will be delivered to UKSA and DSIT, and will be published publicly on the GOV.UK website.

Before publication, we will confirm whether you are happy with the use of your quotes, and you will have the opportunity to approve, amend, or veto use of your quotes, and to choose whether the quotes should be attributed to you or kept anonymous.

Do you have any questions before we start? [Pause for questions]

I’m going to turn on the recording now. [Start recording]

Questions

These questions acted as a guideline for the conversation, rather than a strict script.

Skills

  • You said that [specify] are skills you need in your organisation. Could you give some more detail and examples?
  • Where have the people currently in your organisation gained their skills? E.g. university, CPD, on the job, other sectors.
  • You said you’ve provided [specify] training. What does this look like in practice?
  • Is there anything you’d like to be doing around skills but aren’t? Why not? E.g. want to create a graduate scheme but lack resources, want to hire interns but don’t know how, want to partner with universities but don’t have contacts.
  • Where do you think the issues are coming from in the skills pipeline? E.g. academia, individual companies, a lack of support from sector bodies. What needs to change?
  • [If ticked the ‘defence’ box and provided insight into differences in hiring and retaining defence space staff] Could you tell us more about the challenges you’re facing here? Is there much fluidity to move between civil and defence space work to resolve these, either within your company or within the wider sector?

Recruitment

  • You said you’re struggling to recruit for [specify] roles. Could you give some more details and examples? What seniority are these roles?
  • You said you’re recruiting for [specify] roles. Do you primarily recruit for highly specialised/experienced space employees for these roles, or are you open to broadly qualified applicants who may need some training?
  • How important are specific qualifications to hiring? Do you think it is essential for potential hires to have a degree, masters, PhD? How does this affect hiring decisions?
  • You have offices in [specify]. Do you find recruitment challenges are different in different parts of the country?
  • How has remote working affected your organisation's ability to recruit? E.g. competition, hiring from EU, internationally, expectations of potential hires.
  • You cited [specify] as reasons for your recruitment difficulties. How might these be addressed? E.g. More interns, specific uni courses etc
  • You cited competition from other [specify] sectors as an underlying cause of your recruitment difficulties. Which sectors, and why do you feel applicants feel they are more attractive?
  • In general, would you say your recruitment approach equally targets early or mid-career individuals, or favours one over the other? Are there many recruitment opportunities for late career individuals?

Retention

  • You said you’re struggling to retain [specify] roles. Could you give some more details and examples? What seniority are these roles?
  • You said that employees are leaving to go to other sectors. Which sectors are these?
  • Is poaching from other space sector companies or competition with other sectors a greater retention challenge?
  • In general, would you say your retention challenges are concentrated in any specific career stages, i.e. early, mid or late career groups?

Hiring from abroad

  • You’ve said that hiring from abroad is a challenge. Could you tell us some more about that? E.g. forms are very complicated, too many, lots of different agencies
  • If yes, is there anything specific about the UK system which is a challenge?

Future

  • How do you see your organisation changing in the future? How will this impact skills needs? On what timescales? E.g. expansion, diversification of products, expansion overseas, automation/AI.
  • Are there any particular technical skills or subjects which you think will be more necessary in the future? Specific technologies, not generic ‘21st century skills’.
  • What do you think the long-term impact of skills shortages will be on your organisation? Will it change your business or operating model?

Support

  • Are you aware of current support offered by government (UKSA, Catapult, UKRI)?
  • Is current government support working well? If not, what should be changed?
  • Is there anything else you think that government could do to help ensure skills needs within the space sector are met in the future?
  • Do you feel like the focus of skills discussion is right? Is the balance between grad/retention/mid career right?

Appendix F: Interviewees

125 respondents (57%) said they were willing to be contacted for a follow up interview. 91 were contacted, selected based on their survey answers and a range of key themes. As far as possible, interviewees represented a range of segments, organisation sizes, and locations.

25 respondents agreed to be interviewed, and 21 were interviewed, listed in Table 31. Interviews typically lasted 30 to 60 minutes.

Note that not all quotes in the report are from interviewees, some are from free text answers to survey questions.

Name Position Company
Adam Taylor Founder and Lead Engineer Adiuvo Engineering & Training
Adele Fox Marketing Director EVONA
Andy Butt Head of Business Development and Commercial Reliance Precision
Chris Spedding Programme Manager BASIC
Dave Pollard Education and Outreach Manager Spaceport Cornwall
Derek Harris Business Operations Manager Skyrora
Felicity Mayers HR & Finance Manager Piran Composites
Graham Harrison Special Projects Director National Composites Centre
Dr Jason Hopkins Senior Innovation & Research Scientist Ordnance Survey
Jonathan Hendry Chief Technology Officer 4 Earth Intelligence
Dr Martin Heywood Director Newton Launch Systems
Dr Peter Shaw Senior Lecturer in Astronautics Kingston University
Portia Bowman Chief Executive Officer Growbotics
Ralph Dinsley Founder/Managing Director 3S Northumbria
Rhiannon Owen Talent Acquisition Partner Satellite Applications Catapult
Prof. Simon Evetts R&D Director Blue Abyss
Visiting Professor Northumbria University
List of interviewees who opted not to remain anonymous. 5 interviewees wished to remain anonymous.

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